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Friday, October 14, 2005 | Sante Ristorante is a longtime La Jolla fixture for a comfortable setting, reasonably priced Italian food and good service. The stand-alone restaurant is off the main La Jolla drag of Prospect Street so it has the feel of a true neighborhood place, rather than a tourist attraction. Run by former New York restaurateur Tony Buonsante and his gregarious son John, they create a casually upscale spot for lunch and dinner. Friends have frequented the place for years and love eating on the bar side that includes a sidewalk terrace with tables. Walls of pictures with Tony and various celebrities and pals, along with the return (after a four-year hiatus) of pianist and singer Bill Beyer on Friday and Saturday, give the area a cozy feel. One can converse easily even with Beyer’s music.

With Chef Bruno Amato in the kitchen (he trained at the Culinary Academy at Calabria in southern Italy), the food is solid. Four of us ate quite well on a satisfying, not overly cheesed, saffron infused risotto Milanese; a papparadelle with wild boar ragu (the meat is ground and not gamy); and two evening specials – escolar (similar to Chilean sea bass) was moist with a crisp potato covering; and a polenta crusted steak filet that wasn’t my favorite because of too many elements that overwhelmed the meat. Service is attentive though our server was a bit perky for some at the table. The wine list has some older Bordeaux and a terrific selection of Italian whites and reds, including a lovely 2000 Chianti Querceto Riserva for $52. Pastas and main courses range from $13 to $34. Truffles are in season and check the restaurant for a truffle wine dinner in November. Sante Ristorante, 7811 Herschel Ave., La Jolla, (858) 454-1315, www.santeristorante.com

Tidbits: Get to know food and wine without the hassle of a trip to the wine country. Nov. 10-12 the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival features cooking classes, wine tasting seminars and a grand event at the Embarcadero. Many of the wine events are limited in size and cost $45 to attend. There are packages available for all the events. For tickets and program information, visit www.worldofwineevents.com.

More about La Jolla: Jack’s Grille and Wine Bar … definitely a place to go for food and drink, especially for the younger crowd that is still awake at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night. Jack’s Sidewalk Café is open for coffee, smoothies, Italian sodas and pastries with seating outside on Girard Avenue and next to the entrance of Jack’s Grille. 7863 Girard Ave, (858) 456-8111.

Tapenade‘s usually good food was a lot less than stellar according to friends (in the food business) who, on a recent Saturday evening, ate a dry duck confit, a very boring (and expensive) asparagus salad and good wild mushroom ravioli. Asparagus is, as the California Asparagus Commission notes, the harbinger of spring. It’s fall here, and the restaurant says the spears are from California. We wonder. Local, seasonal vegetables taste better than ones that travel the world. Considering that Celebrate the Craft (noted in my Oct. 7 column) occurred this past weekend at The Lodge at Torrey Pines, it is disheartening to see a restaurant of Tapenade’s caliber not care much about supporting regional, seasonal ingredients. Tapenade, 7612 Fay St., La Jolla, (858) 551-7500.

Pet Peeve: From a reader who can’t stand it when wait staff ask: “Are you still working on that?” This particular peeve plays to a common and annoying problem of many better restaurants – removing plates from the table before everyone finishes eating. So the question posed by a well-intended busser is a non-issue if people are still eating.

Marcie Rothman loves good food – no matter where it’s cooked – at home, a hole in the wall or a white tablecloth restaurant. Known as The $5 Chef on radio, television and in her two cookbooks, Marcie travels far and near with an eye on what’s current in food. You can find her at www.5dollarchef.com.

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